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Whose Letter Of Authorization Is It Anyway?

by Greg Reigel 30. June 2017 13:41
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A scenario I see more regularly than I would like involves an aircraft management company that manages a turbojet aircraft and provides pilot services to multiple users of the aircraft. Since the managed aircraft is capable of flight up to and beyond flight level 41,000, the aircraft needs FAA approval to operate in the Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum (“RVSM”) flight levels from 29,000 feet to 41,000 feet. For reasons that are not always clear to me, the management company applies for and obtains an RVSM letter of authorization (“LOA”) in its own name for the aircraft, but then operates the aircraft on behalf of the operators. And, unfortunately, by doing so it has exposed not only itself, but also the operators to the wrath of the FAA for violations of the regulations.

In order to understand why this is the case, we need to first look at why an LOA, or its counterpart letter of deviation authority (“LODA”), is necessary. LOAs and LODAs are issued to Part 91 operators to provide authority to operate in a particular manner. An LOA authorizes an operator to engage in a particular activity, such as operation in RVSM airspace. A LODA permits an operator to deviate from a regulatory requirement with which the operator would otherwise be required to comply, such as permitting an instructor to operate an experimental aircraft for hire for the purposes of type-specific training. LOAs/LODAs are generally only applicable to Part 91 operators. (Operators under Parts 121, 133, 135 etc. receive similar authority in the form of operations specifications or waivers.)

LOAs and LODAs are “voluntary” and are issued by the FAA based on certain specific situations. That is, an operator doesn’t have to request an LOA or LODA unless the operator wants to do something that requires FAA authorization. In the RVSM context, if a Part 91 aircraft operator wants to operate in RVSM airspace, the operator will need to obtain the necessary LOA. But the aircraft operator is also free to avoid operating in RVSM airspace, in which case the operator would not need an RVSM LOA.

A Part 91 operator is the party who has “operational control” of the aircraft for a particular flight. What does that mean? Well, 14 C.F.R. 1.1 states “[o]perational control, with respect to a flight, means the exercise of authority over initiating, conducting or terminating a flight.” Thus, the FAA takes the position that the true operator of the aircraft is the party who has operational control for a particular flight.

Why does operational control matter when we are talking about LOAs and LODAs? Because LOAs/LODAs must be issued to the “operator” of the aircraft, i.e., the party that exercises operational control during the flight. And the party with operational control may not necessarily be the owner or manager of the aircraft.

For example, when we are looking at operation in RVSM airspace, 14 C.F.R. §§ 91.180 and 91.706 state in part:

“ . . . no person may operate a civil aircraft (of U.S. registry) in airspace designated as Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum (RVSM) airspace unless:

  1. The operator and the operator’s aircraft comply with the requirements of appendix G of [Part 91]; and

  2. The operator is authorized by the Administrator to conduct such operations.”

Thus, identifying the party who is the operator of the aircraft is critical because that dictates who must have the authorization.

So, who should apply for and be issued an LOA/LODA? Registered owners who are conducting personal or business flights under Part 91 for their non-air-transportation use; and parties assuming operational control under “dry” lease or use agreements such as Part 91 and Part 135 operator lessees conducting operations under Part 91. Keep in mind that if multiple parties are operating the aircraft, multiple LOAs/LODAs may be required!

Who should not apply for or be issued an LOA/LODA? “Flight Department Companies” (e.g., holding companies/single purpose entities); Owner Trustees (e.g. where a trust is the registered owner of the aircraft but the aircraft is operated by the party holding the beneficial interest in the trust); and Part 91 aircraft management companies that simply assist aircraft owners and Part 91 operators with their ownership and/or operation of the aircraft.

What can you as an operator do to make sure you have the necessary authority you may need or want from the FAA? First, do your research! Make sure you understand both your and the FAA’s obligations in the LOA/LODA process. Next, when you are applying for an LOA/LODA ensure that your application is as complete and correct as possible. (Remember, garbage in = garbage out). If necessary, ask for meeting with FAA personnel to submit your application in person. And finally, follow-up with the FAA on a regular basis to confirm the status of your application and whether the FAA has questions or needs additional information to process the application.


King Air Parts Obsolescence Solutions

by GlobalAir.com 29. May 2014 12:14
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Mark Wilken
Director of Avionics Sales


A CRT with phosphor burn-in – common with older CRTs due to the screens only displaying non-moving images at high-intensity.

In the first article we published related to this topic, we discussed the overall concern of parts obsolescence in aviation. Due to ongoing changes in consumer electronics, avionics are highly susceptible to obsolescence. This makes many airframes vulnerable to expensive upgrades or potential grounding. However, manufactures and service centers are creating solutions and developing products to keep your airplane flying indefinitely.

The first article mentions unlike consumer electronics, airplanes are built to fly for many years. This especially holds true for the Beechcraft King Air. The King Air was first introduced in the 1960’s and continues to be assembled to this day using the same airfoil. Many of these later models King Airs are still in circulation around the world. However, many owners and operators are beginning to feel the effects of parts obsolescence.

When King Air operators face this challenge, they have two options: source out pre-owned aftermarket parts that have been removed from the same airframe, or invest in a new avionics package. Each option has pros and cons. If you decide to replace your avionics with pre-owned aftermarket parts, sourcing can be very difficult. You also run the risk of investing in a part that has an unknown part life before it too needs to be replaced.

The next option is to install a new avionics package in your King Air. The most popular retrofit for the King Air is the Garmin G1000. The G1000’s popularity stems from the high cost of maintaining current avionics, the reasonable cost of the G1000 installation and the value added back into the aircraft.

For instance, take the cost of traditional King Air avionics upgrades vs. the G1000. A traditional upgrade would include WAAS LPV at $95,000, ADS-B at $45,000, RVSM at $83,000 and five year maintenance and upkeep at $100,000 for a grand total of $323,000. With the traditional upgrade, you add no resale to your aircraft. With the G1000, your average base install is $325,000 and you add an average value increase to the aircraft of $275,000. In addition, the system is safer, lighter, more reliable, requires significantly less maintenance and the aircraft is down for only 15 working days.

Deciding which route to take can be a daunting task. At some point you will be faced with this predicament that will have you searching for additional information. Regardless of what you decide, our avionics retrofit teams and aftermarket avionics department can help your aircraft flying.

Mark Wilken joined Elliott Aviation in 1989 as an Avionics Bench Technician. He was promoted to Avionics Manager in 1996 and joined the sales team in 2003. Mark has led many highly successful avionics programs such as the King Air Garmin G1000 avionics retrofit program. He recently led efforts for Wi-Fi solutions in Hawkers, King Airs and Phenom 300’s. Mark holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Aviation Management from Southern Illinois University and is a licensed Pilot.

Elliott Aviation is a second-generation, family-owned business aviation company offering a complete menu of high quality products and services including aircraft sales, avionics service & installations, aircraft maintenance, accessory repair & overhaul, paint and interior, charter and aircraft management. Serving the business aviation industry nationally and internationally, they have facilities in Moline, IL, Des Moines, IA, and Minneapolis, MN. The company is a member of the Pinnacle Air Network, National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), National Air Transportation Association (NATA), and National Aircraft Resale Association (NARA).

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Domestic RVSM

by Jeremy Cox 1. March 2005 00:00
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A friend of mine was attending his annual Aircraft Type Recurrency Training, at Simu-flite in Dallas in February of this year. He is a captain for a large household chemical corporation that owns and operates an aircraft in the support of their business. The instructor asked the class: "What is the Rated Ceiling of the Dassault Falcon 20 dash Five?" He was expecting the attendees to throw back the answer of: "Forty Two Thousand Feet, or FL 420." My friend's hand shot high up with a vigor that forced the instructor to call upon him to respond. The answer thus offered came as a surprise to all: "The Rated Ceiling of our Dassault Falcon 20 dash Five is FL 280, or Twenty Eight Thousand Feet!" An un-conventional, but thoroughly accurate response to such a benign question (His aircraft is undergoing the RVSM STC now); Why is this so? Well, since the early hours of January 20th, 2005 all flight operations within the Airspace block between FL 290 and FL 410 in this country has been controlled by the new regulation: Domestic Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum (DRVSM.) Even though the majority of the rest of the World have been living under these regulations for many months or even years longer than we Americans, what this means is that many of today's Turbine Powered Aircraft are now forced to cease most operations above FL 280 unless they have been equipped and approved for operations above this level. What is DRVSM? This a standard change that mandates a reduction of the vertical separation down to 1,000 feet from 2,000 feet between aircraft relative to each other in flight between FL 290 and FL 410. This change was originally touted as a way that fuel could be saved (mainly by the Airlines) by supposedly allowing up to twice as many aircraft to operate within the same block of airspace than what was allowable with a 2,000 foot separation standard. In addition to increased volume, this standard is also meant to allow greater operating flexibility for aircraft to maneuver around thunderstorm activity at altitude in the summer months. Are the benefits touted by the architects and proponents of this reform implementation, truly being reaped by as many Flight Level users as possible? Only time will tell. Unfortunately any publication of the experience by users outside of the US has given little enough guidance in answering this question. I think that this is mainly because close to 70% percent of the world's General Aviation Fleet (according to GAMA) are based in the US, and the pilot population in our country equals more than 600,000 individuals. Statistically the bulk of the feed-back attributed to the implementation of RVSM has yet to be recorded.

Recently I downloaded the March 21st, 2005 US DRVSM Approvals/IGA Document from the FAA's RVSM website. This document keeps track of which aircraft have full DRVSM Approval, and which do not. After spending some time totaling up each page, I came up with the following statistics:

Approximate Number of Business/General Aviation Aircraft Listed and Tracked by the FAA for the purpose of RVSM = 4,860.

Approximate Number of Business/General Aviation Aircraft that are performance capable of flight in the DRVSM Altitude Block = 13,199 (Per a Fleet Report that I ran from my Amstat database.)

Approximate Number of Business/General Aviation Aircraft that are currently DRVSM Approved and listed in the FAA document = 3,780.

I have summarized these numbers as follows: Less than 37% of the Aircraft that are physically capable of flight in the ‘RVSM Airspace Block,' are expected to receive DRSM Approval. Of these 4,860+ aircraft, almost 88% of these aircraft are now DRVSM Approved.

Several issues that I have heard about recently include: Long delays in the processing and issuance of a Letter of Authority (LOA) to qualified operators; Delays and Re-Routings due to Traffic Density Saturation in certain areas of the country; and many ‘Gee-Whiz' comments from both Crew and Passengers regarding visual sightings of passing aircraft.

I will expand each topic separately: First ‘LOA-s.' To obtain RVSM Approval, an operator must under-go a ‘four-step' process. Step-One; Each aircraft has to be approved and fitted with the following: two independent, cross-coupled altitude measurement systems; one automatic altitude control system, to within ±65 feet; one altitude alert system; one SSR altitude reporting transponder; and RVSM-compliant avionics. Also the static port and pitot-static probe installations have to be inspected and conformed to a known standard. Step-Two; Next the integrity and function of the equipment that was installed in the aircraft to meet the airworthiness requirements of RVSM approval must be functionally tested, either by flying with a Static Source Trailing Cone (if you are obtaining your own STC); or flying with a portable Global Positioning System Monitoring Unit (GMU) on board; or (this will soon become the most prevalent testing method) Flight over a permanent Height Monitoring Unit (HMU). The HMU is a passive, ground-based system that gauges the altitude of aircraft flying within its coverage area. It consists of a set of ground stations arranged as a central site, with four additional receivers arranged in a square. Each site receives aircraft secondary surveillance radar (SSR) transmissions, from which the aircraft's three-dimensional position is derived. The HMU calculates altimetry system error using meteorological information and the Mode-C/S height data. Remember how I said that this will become the most prevalent method of verification, well the FAA has promised that HMU sites will be located in Atlantic City, New Jersey; Wichita, Kansas; Cleveland, Ohio; Roanoke, Virginia; Ottawa, Ontario; Lethbridge, Alberta and somewhere in Arizona. Unfortunately so far, Atlantic City is the only site that is currently up and running (March 2005.) Step-Three; All of the operators Crew Members that are to be assigned to fly in RVSM airspace must have been trained in RVSM operations. The operator has the option to either train in-house or contract with outside sources such as Simu-flite, Flight Safety International or anyone else that can show that their Training Program is FAA approved. Many operators choose to incorporate this RVSM training in a class for Int'l operations. And finally Step-Four; The operator must prove to its local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) that it has written and implemented a logical and eventually approved system to maintain their aircraft and flight crews to RVSM standards. The operator proves this by writing a manual that logically states what steps it is going to follow to become certified and then stay certified. The responsibility is placed entirely on the operator to convince the FAA that its plan is legal, practical, and workable. Now here is where the first problems occur that I have heard about. DRVSM Applications are taking three months or more to process. This is not a standard problem, but it is FSDO dependent depending on the amount of backlog at each office. It is amazing to talk to many operators that are trained, have brand-new aircraft that are fully RVSM compliant and have bought a manual off-the-shelf from a proven compliance consultant and yet they are unable to fly between FL 290 and FL 410 because they have yet to receive an FAA stamp of approval. I have been given the impression by several people I know that fly internationally, including a friend who is a Falcon 900 driver, that the LOA approval process in Europe is also subject to delay. Specifically he is DRVSM approved and is still seeking the LOA from Eurocontrol for approved RVSM operations in European Airspace. This is after he has flown over the NAT HMU in Strumble, Wales. He tells me that he submitted all of the required documentation that details the Date, Time and Altitude of passage over Strumble, and yet he still waits, even after holding multiple telephone conversations with the Eurocontrol ‘powers-that-be.'

Second Problem Topic: Delays and Re-Routings due to Traffic Density Saturation in certain areas of the country. I have a friend who is a Beechjet 400A driver in Florida, he has told me of several instances where he needed to get up to altitude (he is an RVSM approved operator) and get en-route, and yet he has been forced to racetrack between Tampa and Cape Canaveral until he was sequenced to climb and proceed, because of all of the lower non-RVSM compliant traffic filed at FL 280 and below. Another friend, who is based in Atlanta and who drives a Falcon 50, tells me that on trips out to the West Coast he gets cleared to FL 430 pretty quickly. However when he makes a run up to the North East or down to Florida, he still meets with the same delays that he experienced before DRVSM was implemented. I have heard that the Center air traffic controllers supposedly tout how much DRVSM frees up airspace and gets the system flowing. Meanwhile, the approach controllers continue to shake their heads and say that Atlanta for instance, can still only handle the same number of arrivals as they did prior to DRVSM. The complaint here is that the bottleneck is still at the arrival/departure phase. It is admirable to be able to put more aircraft in cruise airspace, but there's still only so many runways that you can land on and there's a limit to the amount of traffic those runways can hold. I have further heard that before DRVSM, Air Traffic Control issued airspeed restrictions hundreds of miles out for traffic coordination into high density traffic airports. Now flight crews still get the same airspeed restrictions and vectors....only now they can get them at a greater variety of Flight Levels.

My last Problem Topic is the many ‘Gee-Whiz' comments from both Crew and Passengers regarding visual sightings of passing aircraft. Even though Air Traffic Control are reportedly proactive at reporting converging or crossing traffic, the view from a Gulfstream cockpit of a Boeing or Airbus converging at a 1,000+ KTAS and a 1,000 foot separation can be very un-nerving. I wonder how many passengers swear that they were nearly involved in a mid-air collision and have narrowly cheated death?

There are still strategies available to non-RVSM compliant operators. One of which is to request a transition through and above the RVSM Block Levels. However, this option may often not be suitable. The DRVSM rule does allow ‘climb-throughs' but non-compliant aircraft must be able to make a steady climb from FL 280 to FL 430, with no level-offs. Even if payloads or performance allow such a maneuver to be accommodated, traffic density may forbid it. The amazing thing to me, about DRVSM is the cost to an operator who cannot, or will not, seek approval and instead continues to operate with a FL 280 Ceiling. I will use the example of a Dassault Falcon 20F to illustrate my point of view. For a Falcon 20F that weighs 26,000 pounds, at FL 280 with an indicated Mach of 0.790 at ISA -10˚F, its pair of GE CF700-2D-2 Engines will manage to convert approximately 462 gallons of Jet A into Heat and Noise every hour. At the same weight, speed and temperature lapse rate at FL 370 these illustrious powerplants perform the same conversion at a rate of 302 gallons every hour (Obviously the consumption rate for each scenario is higher for the first hour, but as the aircraft weight becomes reduced, so does the fuel-burn.. work with me on this, okay.) Now let's say that the owner of this Falcon 20 is used to paying an average of $3.50 per US Gallon of Jet A, and the Falcon flies an average of 400 flight hours per year. If you figure that 65% of the annual utilization of this example aircraft is spent at altitude, i.e. 260 Flight Hours. The owner of this non-compliant Dassault Falcon 20F will pay $145,600 US Dollars more every year as punishment for not getting RVSM approved. That quoted cost of $180,000.00 USD for the RVSM STC now looks mighty attractive doesn't it, especially when you realize that it will only take 15 months of fuel savings to offset the cost to incorporate the DRVSM STC? So, what feed-back can you share with your fellow readers here at GlobalAir? I have personally ‘surfed' the web looking for forums where people like you and I are discussing these everyday issues and problems that appear to be occurring as a result of DRVSM. I have still yet to find a site that carries these comments, hence this article on this site. Please allow me to challenge you to write in, speak up and be heard. Best of all, your comments will not fall on deaf ears, as the Operations staff in charge of DRVSM have indicated their interest in receiving any and all comments that result from this piece. So go ahead and give us your ‘good, the bad and the ugly' comments because you might be able to make a difference and be instrumental in getting the system improved.


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